New Bill Would Strengthen, Update Refugee Law

By Liza Lieberman - Director, Advocacy and Outreach

New Bill Would Strengthen, Update Refugee Law

The United States Capitol building in Washington, DC.

(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

In the face of the largest refugee crisis since World War II, efforts to welcome and protect refugees in the United States are coming under increased scrutiny and suspicion. Despite challenges to the long-standing American tradition of helping those fleeing war and terror, some legislators have proposed important legislation which would modernize the U.S. resettlement system and improve the refugee protection process.

The Refugee Protection Act of 2016—introduced today by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Representative Zoe Lofgren of California—would strengthen U.S. laws pertaining to refugees and asylum seekers. It builds upon and modernizes the historic Refugee Act of 1980.

This legislation would provide critical protections, including ensuring due process for refugees and asylum seekers and allowing more refugee families to stay together. The bill would also modernize our refugee resettlement program and simplify asylum procedures, providing much needed reforms.

Have your elected representatives given their support to this important bill? Click here to ask them.

The provisions of this bill which would ensure due process, including legal representation, for unaccompanied kids and other vulnerable individuals during deportation proceedings are particularly significant. At present, children may be left to navigate the complicated U.S. legal system on their own. The Refugee Protection Act would ensure that children are not placed in deportation proceedings without legal representation from someone who understands their case and the system, and can ensure that their rights are protected.

The Refugee Protection Act also includes provisions that would:

  • Keep more refugee families together by facilitating family reunification and by ensuring that children can be admitted with their parents or a caretaker;
  • Ensure that data is collected through every step of the resettlement process so that government officials can better coordinate with state refugee programs, community-based organizations and national resettlement agencies;
  • Authorize the president to designate certain vulnerable groups of refugees for resettlement consideration;
  • Ensure that all immigrant children in government custody are seen by trained child welfare professionals;
  • Increase the numbers of visas for victims of crimes and trafficking, and ensure that they can work while they are waiting for their status to be resolved;
  • Guarantee that all migrants are provided information about their rights in a language that they can understand.
  • Amend the definition of ‘material support’ for terrorism so that it no longer erroneously excludes innocent refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom are victims of terrorism, from seeking protection in the U.S.

“The Refugee Protection Act proposes thoughtful, effective, and much needed solutions to these problems and will ensure that fairness is restored to the asylum system,” said Melanie Nezer, HIAS’ Vice President for Policy and Advocacy.

HIAS strongly supports the Refugee Protection Act, which would enhance the United States’ laws in a way that is in line with our proud values of protecting and welcoming refugees. Please join us in thanking those who introduced this legislation and urging more elected officials to support the proposed policies.

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